By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
DeSales High School has selected Rick Blackwell, a teacher at Mercy Academy and a Louisville Metro Councilman, to become its president.
Blackwell will succeed Doug Strothman, who has led the boys’ school at 425 Kenwood Drive since 2006. The transition in leadership takes effect July 1.
On the Metro Council, Blackwell represents Pleasure Ridge Park, Riverport and parts of the Valley Station and Iroquois neighborhoods. He was first elected in 2002 and ran unopposed in the 2016 election. His latest term ends in 2020.
Blackwell has worked at Mercy for 32 years and serves as its service learning and leadership coordinator. Before directing the service program, Blackwell taught theology, psychology and sociology.
Service, instilled by his Catholic education and family, has been central to his career and will continue to be a focus, Blackwell said during an interview Dec. 19.
“I think it was instilled early on that you need to give back — for those who have been given much. That has been a mantra for me. … I have been very blessed in my life and feel a need to give back while I can,” he said, noting that he has passed that on to his son Ryan, too.
Blackwell said his son graduated from DeSales in 2011 and “had a wonderful experience.”
“They did a tremendous job fostering his growth,” he said.
Blackwell has since joined DeSales’ board. As president, he hopes to raise awareness about the school’s academic program, among other things.
“I want to make sure we are on everyone’s radar. If you have a student who’s an eighth-grader with a 36 on the ACT, I want that person to consider DeSales. I want to be sure people see the strong academics at DeSales.”
David Price, chair of DeSales’ board and a 1979 graduate, said Blackwell is “the perfect fit to continue to move us forward. He brings a depth of experience in education and service on the Metro Council. He also has this passion for DeSales. He has seen first hand what we do.”
Price also expressed gratitude for the current president, Doug Strothman.
“He has done a tremendous job leading DeSales — growth in enrollment, growth in foundation, we’ve improved the academic side, we’ve improved facilities and we’ve increased salaries for teachers. We’ve had a lot of success.”
Strothman, who was a businessman prior to his presidency, announced in June that he would depart at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
The 60-year-old school in South Louisville has seen a number of improvements during Strothman’s tenure. He led DeSales to a 25 percent growth in enrollment in the last decade, according to a news release about his plans to resign, and he’s led the school in two multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns.
Tuition assistance has increased under his leadership and the campus has been improved and expanded, the release said.
“We’re happy for Doug. We’re very grateful for what he’s done,” Price added. “And we’re excited about Rick coming on board. He’s the right fit to lead us in the next chapter.”
In addition to Blackwell’s duties at Mercy and on the Metro Council, he is currently writing a dissertation to complete his doctoral degree in education at Spalding University. He expects to defend it this spring. And he hopes its subject matter will help DeSales students grow into strong Catholic leaders.
The dissertation, which blends his experiences as a service-learning educator and an elected official, is called “Service Learning and Civic Engagement.”
It asks, “What are the components of service learning that promote civic engagement after students leave school?” Blackwell said.
“The board has talked about how we are able to provide leadership opportunities and grow leadership skills of our students. I have five months to do some intense study before I take over. But I think that’s one of the things we will work on.
“The world needs good Catholic leaders with true leadership skills — respect for diversity, respect for women,” he said.
In light of recent revelations in the news related to women and their treatment by men, Blackwell noted that he plans to bring his experience at Mercy — an all-girls’ school — to bear at DeSales, a boys’ school.
“I will bring a lot of Mercy with me,” he said. “Treating women as equals and with respect is something we really need to instill in our young men. In the current time, we need to be intentional about saying and acting in ways that respect women.”
Blackwell added that he’s grateful to the Sisters of Mercy who “took a chance on me 32 years ago.”
“My time at Mercy and my relationship with the Sisters of Mercy has been instrumental in my growth as an educator and spiritually,” he said. “The Sisters of Mercy are awesome. … I was a 23-year-old kid out of college with no experience.
“I’m really excited about DeSales and I think it’s a really special community. But I know May will be a tough time when we’re going through the activities that round out the year. It’s been my educational home for 32 years,” he added.
Blackwell graduated from the old Bishop David High School in 1978, earned a bachelor’s degree at Bellarmine University, earned a master’s degree in religious studies at Spalding University and expects to finish his doctoral degree at Spalding this spring.
He and his wife Sherry will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary next summer. They are parishioners of St. Lawrence Church.